Vientiane Times 15 December 2015
A multi-stakeholder group led by the Ministry of Planning and Investment in collaboration with Mekong Region Land Governance, Village Focus International and the Land Issues Working Group, embarked on the inaugural Corporate Social Responsibility Study (CSR) Tour in southern Laos earlier this month. The main aim of the study tour was to deepen understanding of CSR practices in land-based investment in Laos, identify and document good practices that are replicable and can serve as a model for other companies. The group also aimed to learn about companies’ and government’s needs for guidance on implementing CSR practices. The study tour brought together a diverse group of participants from civil society organisations, government, private companies and financial institutions. The tour enabled them to better understand socially and environmentally responsible business practices in the land sector in Laos.
The group comprised representatives from the Investment Promotion Department of the Ministry of Planning and Investment, Department of Land Administration in the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, International Finance Corporation, Agro-Forestry Consultancy, LIWG, MRLG, VFI, Oxfam, CCL and Stora Enso Laos. The study tour group visited agro-forestry businesses in Champassak and Saravan provinces, including Outspan Bolovens Ltd. (Olam) and Stora Enso Laos. Prior to embarking on the study tour, the group held a series of workshops to jointly develop the objectives and methodology of the tour, and prepare a set of semi-structured interview questions to guide on-site discussions with agro-forestry company staff, local communities impacted by business operations, and provincial and district government representatives.
The study tour group reported lessons learned in key areas of land-based investment, particularly land acquisition, community engagement, benefit sharing, social and environmental impacts, and grievance resolution processes. The group learned that there is a need to promote corporate social responsibility in Laos, and identified several components of good practices, including establishing clear, open and consistent communication channels amongst all stakeholders – company, government and community – to support project sustainability and promote good cooperation. It is also important to inform and consult with communities in advance of projects to assist communities in understanding the implications of land investment and help avoid future conflicts. Another beneficial practice is the conducting of comprehensive environmental and social impact assessments to assist companies with developing management plans to reduce potentially harmful impacts and maximise the benefits to all stakeholders. Also necessary is the creation of grievance resolution mechanisms early on in investment planning and involving multi-stakeholders in mediation to resolve issues. It was agreed that attracting quality investors in line with Laos’ investment priorities requires clear and transparent procedures and regulations regarding land concessions and land allocation.